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Horse Meat for Dinner and Climate Communication


Horse Meat for Dinner and Climate Communication

In this article, Susan Hamilton Meier tackles the issue of communication and climate change, and applies principles of branding to overcome barriers in communication.

I talk a lot with my clients about empathy. Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes when you’re trying to get your message across. Speaking their language. Meeting them where they are.

It turns out that one of the key barriers to combating climate change is scientists’ refusal to tell their story in a way that Americans – one of the world’s biggest climate culprits – can understand. Perhaps this is a branding lesson we all can learn from.

Lock and key

Would you make a key and then run around looking for a lock to open? No. You would start with a lock that needs opening, and then you would make the right key.

To make any good product, you’ve got to first think about how it’s going to be used. To tell a good story, you need to consider how it’s going to be understood. 

 A matter of degrees

Science – and most of humanity – speaks in the language of Celsius. But Americans speak Fahrenheit. The notion that the earth could warm by, let’s say, 1.5 degrees Celsius is effectively meaningless if you don’t speak the language.

 German Lopez of the New York Times calls this a translation problem. He suggests that including Fahrenheit in scientific reports could go a long way toward driving action on climate change. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe agrees. “It is absolutely essential to communicate in terms and language that people understand.”

 Words matter; being “right” doesn’t

 My Swiss husband has lived in the US for 20 years and still refuses to engage with the Fahrenheit scale. I find this renders him useless in answering questions like “Honey, what’s the weather like today?” He finds my attachment to Fahrenheit puzzling.


Key points include:

  • Translation problems
  • Horse meat for dinner
  • Understanding your target market

Read the full article, The Hubris of Celsius, on LinkedIn.